Art Toombs Ministries 

Online Bible Commentary

The Roller Coaster 

Acts 13:17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it. 18 Now for a time of about forty years He put up with their ways in the wilderness. 19 And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment. 20 After that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. 21 And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, 'I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.' (NKJV)


The time is A. D. 45 and Paul’s First Missionary Journey has begun. Their first stop is the Island of Cyprus. Here Paul’s Jewish name of Saul is changed to his Gentile name of Paul as he prepares to begin his ministry to the Gentiles. 

The group ministered on the island and then sailed northward and landed at the port city of Perga, in Asia Minor. From Perga the party travelled about 100 miles north to Antioch in the province of Pisidia (v. 14a). At this time there were some sixteen cities named Antioch, thus the need for specificity. As was their custom, Paul and his party attended the synagogue on the Sabbath. 

After the reading of the scriptures, Paul and his party were recognized as visitors and were given the opportunity to speak. Paul took the lead and stood before the Jews and launched into a lengthy message detailing the history of the Jews concluding with the finishing work of the Lord Jesus Christ. This message was the first account of a message from Paul on his missionary journeys and was likely a pattern for all of his future preaching. 

In his message, which begins in this passage, Paul first detailed how God had chosen the Jews as His own people, and had protected them through their time as slaves in Egypt (v. 17a). He then gained their release from slavery and provided for them as they wandered in the desert for forty years even though they were disobedient (vv. 17b-18). 

God then “destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan” so that He could give the Israelites the land that He had promised to them through the covenant with Abraham (v. 19). The NKJV text then reads: “after that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years” (v. 20a). A better translation is “after four hundred fifty years he gave them judges.” 

Judges ruled over Israel from the death of Joshua in about 1400 B.C. until the anointing of King Saul in about 1050 B.C. This is a period of about 350 years, not 450. 

So the 450 years Paul mentioned was the approximate time from the Israelites enslavement in Egypt in about 1850 B.C. until the appointment of the first judge in about 1400 B. C. Samuel was the last judge and was used by God to appoint King Saul (vv. 20b-21a). 

After reigning for forty years the Lord removed King Saul because of his disobedience (vv. 21b-22a). In his place the Lord appointed David as king, testifying “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (v. 22b). 

Paul continued his message in the following verses of this chapter. At this point he has set the stage for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

This passage illustrates the manner in which God deals with His people. The history of Israel reflects a people who would be exalted by God in times of obedience and punished in times of disobedience. Their history is like a roller coaster, an up and down existence. 

The Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt but were then made to wander in the desert for forty years because of their disobedience. Then God gave them the Promised Land and judges but again the people were disobedient and insisted on a king like the other nations. So God gave them a king, who later would punish them. Throughout the history of Israel they  would go through a period of obedience, followed by a period of disobedience until God would punish them causing them to return to Him. 

Such is the character of God. He loves His people so much that he will not allow them to remain in disobedience. He will discipline them so that they will return to Him. God never moves, we do.